New therapy may prevent rejection of transplanted organs
August 5, 1997
Web posted at: 10:36 p.m. EDT (0236 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Navy researchers said Tuesday they may have
found a way to prevent organ-transplant patients from
rejecting their new organs -- even if the organs are
incompatible with their bodies' systems.
In an advance that could help tens of thousands of people
waiting for compatible organ donors, the doctors tested a
therapy that seemed to turn off any immune-system attack,
even on transplanted organs that were completely mismatched.
Currently, patients in need of a transplant must wait for an
organ from a suitably matched donor, which can take months.
After a transplant, the patient must take
anti-rejection medications for life to prevent
the immune system from attacking and destroying the new
Anti-rejection drugs can have unpleasant side effects and
increase a patient's susceptibility to infections and tumors.
The drugs are expensive, and about 20 percent of patients
suffer episodes of acute rejection.
The findings of the team, led by Capt. David Harlan
and Lt. Cmdr. Allan Kirk of the U.S. Naval Medical Research
Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, suggest that with the new
therapy, the immune system can be "reeducated" to leave the
transplanted organ alone.
A summary of the research is published in the August 5 issue
of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Monkeys used to test the treatment
The research team -- which worked with transplant surgeon
Stuart Knechtle of the University of Wisconsin --
transplanted "very mismatched" kidneys into rhesus monkeys
and treated them with the new therapy for 28 days after the
No other therapy and no anti-rejection drugs were used, the
"Six months later, the primates are robust and suffering no
significant side effects," according to a Pentagon report.
It said the short course of the therapy appeared to be
long-lasting, precluding the need for daily
medication to prevent organ rejection.
The therapy apparently prevented the immune system from
rejecting the organ by controlling the responses of T-cells,
which help fight immunities.
The researchers believe their therapy also may help treat
ailments such as hay fever, multiple sclerosis and lupus.
Findings could be 'very significant'
Joel Newman of the United Network for Organ Sharing, the
Richmond, Virginia-based national organ allocation center,
said any advance that cut or eliminated the need for
immuno-suppressant drugs would be "very
significant" for the tens of thousands of people living with
The UNOS network, which tracks U.S. transplant data, said
almost 4,000 Americans died in 1996 waiting for a
compatible donor. As of July 30, there were more than 53,000
people awaiting transplants, mostly for a kidneys, liver or heart.
Military Affairs Producer Chris Plante and Reuters contributed to this report.
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